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11
Jul

Vodafone Smart Ultra 7 review: Ultra value makes for one smart purchase


When looking for affordable devices, it can often be difficult to find a phone without too many compromises, especially at the lower-end of the scale. With the Smart Ultra 7, Vodafone is looking to give you as much for your money as possible, in a phone that costs just £135.

Like the higher-end Platinum 7, the Ultra 7 is essentially a rebranded Alcatel phone, albeit one fixed to Vodafone’s network. Could it be the Android phone to buy if your budget isn’t big?

Vodafone Smart Ultra 7 review: Design

As you’d expect, being a phone targeted at the low-end of the market means you’re not going to get luxury. In other words: you won’t find any premium anodised metal or high-end Gorilla Glass in the Ultra 7. Instead, it’s an-all plastic affair with a screen covered in a less expensive Dragontail glass.

Pocket-lint

Just because it’s plastic doesn’t mean there’s nothing to like about its design, as there’s the odd flourish of aesthetic appeal. The plastic frame around the edges has an attractive brushed metal-effect finish to it, while the glass on the front subtly curves towards the edges. A chrome finish around the phone’s edges ensures the home button stands out on the front, while the volume rocker switch and power button have the same textured finish we like on the more expensive Platinum 7.

READ: Vodafone Platinum 7 review: Power and elegance without the price tag

The actual home button doesn’t feel particularly well made, though, giving a spongey feel when pressed rather than a solid click. On either side of this button are capacitive back and recent apps keys which light-up when touched.

Similar to Samsung Galaxy S phones of old, the rear plastic shell is removable and gives access to the micro SIM card slot (note: it’s not the even smaller nano SIM variety) and the microSD card slot. The rear cover itself is pretty flimsy and is finished with a ever-so-slightly grippy, subtle geometrical pattern.

Pocket-lint

In theory it’s easy to remove: simply find the groove near the bottom edge, stick in a thumbnail and pry it away from the frame before pulling off the entire cover. In practice, it takes some effort, which does come as a reassurance that it’s very unlikely to just fall off during use, or if you happen to drop the phone. Thankfully, you shouldn’t need to do it all that often since the battery is not replaceable – it’s sealed inside its own metal casing with a clear warning not to attempt to remove it.

The only other minor complaint about the Smart 7’s design is that the bezel around the edges of the screen is quite thick, which makes the phone relatively wide and hard to use one-handed. Swiping across the screen with a thumb to dismiss notifications or Google Now cards can be particularly challenging.

Vodafone Smart Ultra 7 review: Display

With this being a low-end device, it’s great to see a large 5.5-inch Full HD display (1,920 x 1,080 resolution). To directly compare this to any high-end phones would be unfair, but it’s LCD rather than AMOLED which means you won’t get the same deep blacks, high contrast ratios or eye-popping colour. Instead blacks look dark grey and colours are a little understated.

Pocket-lint

There are compromises with the screen build too. The most noticeable is that the screen isn’t fully laminated to the front glass surface. That means you will notice a slight gap between the display panel and the glass. Thankfully, it doesn’t cause any major issues, but there is a slight warm tint when looking at the screen from an angle. Although, saying that, viewing angles are still good, with content viewable even from an acute angle.

When looking at the display head-on, it’s hard not to be impressed by the Smart 7’s sharpness and clarity. It’s brilliant for a device as affordable as this. Watching movies or playing the odd game on this screen is just as pleasant as on most phones.

Vodafone Smart Ultra 7 review: Software

Like its more expensive Platinum sibling, the Smart Ultra 7 comes loaded with some custom Vodafone apps and software. Apps like Call+ and Message+ plus help Vodafone customers take advantage of the carrier’s advanced phone and messaging services, while the Tips app helps get first-time smartphone users up to speed with how to use their new phone.

Otherwise it’s mostly a clean, stock Android Marshmallow operating system experience. Everything from the app drawer and settings menu to the recent apps screen and drop-down notifications are just as you’d find them in a Nexus or Motorola phone. Because of this, our early experiences using the device have been fast, fluid and responsive.

Vodafone Smart Ultra 7 review: Performance

In the past, budget phones have been forced to run with distinctly average processors to keep the cost of build down. Not so much in the Smart Ultra 7. While it’s not the most high-end of powerful mobile chips, the Helio P10 inside features eight cores. As a reminder, this is the same processor found inside the Oppo F1 Plus – a phone which costs more than double this Vodafone’s asking price.

READ: Oppo F1 Plus review: A flagship at half the price

Judging how good the Smart 7’s performance is depends very much on your expectations of a budget phone. Thanks to being a virtually clean version of Android, it gets through most daily tasks without breaking a sweat.

Still, fast-moving animations have a tendency to stutter slightly, while games do load slower than they might on a more premium smartphone. There’s the odd occasion when data loading pauses, before catching up with itself, but this is to be expected on the bottom-end of the smartphone market. The overall experience is decent, and certainly shouldn’t be bad enough to put you off parting with the modest amount of cash.

Pocket-lint

Again, there are compromises in the other hardware specs, but none that should affect daily use too much. It has only 2GB of RAM and 16GB of storage (around 10GB of which is usable). You’re not restricted to 16GB, however, as you can expand using a microSD card – and you can even make use of Android Marshmallow’s ability to adopt microSD card storage as internal storage to save your app data and so on.

Other trade-offs include the lack of a fingerprint sensor or quick-charge support.

Vodafone Smart Ultra 7 review: Battery life

Since there’s no quick-charge it does take some time to fill up the Smart Ultra 7’s 2,960mAh battery. But with a battery of that capacity, Android Marshmallow’s optimisations and only having a 1080p display, a full charge will last you a full day without even trying. Indeed, even when we accidentally left navigation running on Google Maps one afternoon it still kept going until about 2am the next morning.

It’s reassuring to know that even budget phones like this can get through a full day with at least 30 per cent capacity remaining. With Google’s Doze mode baked into Android it’s also comforting to know it won’t lose more than a few per cent when left on standby overnight.

Smart Ultra 7 review: Camera

Like the rest of the Smart Ultra 7’s features, the camera should definitely be good enough for most users. It’s a 13-megapixel sensor with phase-detection autofocus (PDAF), which is also equipped with HDR (high dynamic range) and an f/2.0 aperture lens.

The camera’s results seems a far cry from the fuzzy, distorted and over-saturated photos we’re used to seeing in the ultra-affordable market.

Our first few shots show ample detail and great colour, at least in good light. Once light levels drop, detail starts to disappear, and image noise creeps in, leaving you with fuzzy looking images. Generally speaking, shots are good enough to share on social media with your friends. Just don’t go hoping to win any photography awards with it.

The most frustrating part about the camera experience is that unless there’s even light, it doesn’t like to focus too easily. If a close-up object has bright directional light reflecting off its edges somewhere, the autofocus gives up. At times, even when it does manage to focus, the image can come out with very harsh light levels and over-saturated colours.

If selfies are a big deal to you, you’ll be pleased to know the front-facing 5-megapixel snapper also comes with a dual-LED flash. But, again, its results are fuzzy.

Verdict

Combined with its clean software, powerful processor and long-lasting battery, the Vodafone Smart Ultra 7 is easily one of the best phones under £150. There simply aren’t many phones on the market at this price point with the same feature list, especially not with a large 5.5-inch Full HD resolution display.

It may not feel as nice in the hand as the new Wileyfox Spark X, but it is a better all-round phone. Plus it’s worth pointing out the obvious Vodafone tie-in, meaning you’ll need to be a monthly customer to use the phone. Or, alternatively, you could just buy the Alcatel equivalent outright and use it with any network provider.

So is the Smart Ultra 7 the Android phone to buy if your budget isn’t especially big? Well, its direct competition spec-wise is probably the new Moto G – which has a more refined design, better camera and smoother experience, but also costs at least £35 more. Every pound counts these days, so the decision lies in how much you appreciate the extra craftsmanship and quality.

11
Jul

HTC Desire 10 coming to give you more affordable HTC 10


Renowned leaker, Evan Blass, has indicated that HTC is following up its flagship HTC 10 smartphone with a more affordable Desire-series device with the same numbering. If his information is correct – which it normally is – the HTC Desire 10 will be launched at some point in the third quarter of this year. 

What’s an HTC 10 without a Desire 10?

— Evan Blass (@evleaks) July 10, 2016

As of yet, very little is known about the Desire 10. In fact, this is the first time the device has even been mentioned online. With it taking on the same numbering as the high-end device, we could easily make the assumption that the next Desire will at least look similar to the HTC 10. We might even go as far as predicting the first metal Desire phone since the original HTC Desire. 

Specifications are a complete unknown, but we wouldn’t be surprised to see it follow in the trends of current affordable mid-range phones with a full HD 5.5-inch screen, Snapdragon 600-series processor and 2/3GB RAM. 

Of course, any guesses are completely speculative, and are based on current market trends rather than any inside information. 

https://t.co/46rPnjiZzp pic.twitter.com/rYD8KV97MV

— Evan Blass (@evleaks) July 10, 2016

The one snippet of information we do have is a follow-up to Blass’ original tweet which shows a small cropped image of the camera unit. Its lens sits inside a protruding round metal ring, above a dual LED and laser-autofocus sensor. Interestingly, there also appears to be an antenna band running on either side of the camera, suggesting this phone will indeed be made of metal.

With HTC ditching the ‘One’ branding earlier this year, it could well be that this new Desire phone is being launched as a replacement to the HTC One E9 series. The camera and metal build suggest this is a likely scenario, but nothing is confirmed until HTC announces it officially. 

11
Jul

Pokemon Go coming to UK, Europe and other countries “within days”


Pokemon Go has been incredibly popular since its launch in the US, New Zealand, Australia and Japan last week, but the biggest question constantly being asked is about its availability in other regions.

The UK, for example, has plenty of PokeStops and wild Pokemon scattered around the country, but the only way to get the app currently is through downloading an Android APK or by changing the location on your iPhone.

  • Can’t get Pokemon Go in your country yet? Here’s how to download it now

Its release here, in Europe and other countries around the world has been promised “soon” but with few further details.

Now though it seems that we have a confirmed date, and you won’t have to wait long.

The Wall Street Journal claims that “people familiar with plans for the game” reveal it will be released in other regions, including Europe, within a few days.

Considering Apple’s App Store refreshes its apps every Thursday in the UK, that could mean you could download it at the end of this week. Indeed, often apps appear in the back end on the App Store the day before, so you might only have to wait a couple more days to play it.

The WSJ also reports that Nintendo, which owns a large slice of The Pokemon Company, has soared in value thanks to the success of Pokemon Go. It is worth more than $9 billion more now, it is said.

11
Jul

Best budget smartphones 2016: The best phones available to buy for under £200


The budget smartphone market has really come into its own over the last couple of years, with numerous devices appearing with price tags under £200 and an aim to offer you a good enough smartphone experience that you don’t need to splash half a grand on a flagship device.

They might not have the sharpest displays, or beautiful metal designs, but a budget smartphone can still be good looking, offer decent specs, a good battery life and a solid performance, while saving your pennies at the same time. Who can argue with that?

For this feature, we are specifically looking at the devices that fall under £200. If you have a little more cash to spend on a smartphone than that, you can read our best smartphones for under £350 feature, or our big best smartphones 2016 feature that includes devices in all price ranges. For those that are on a budget though, this is right place for you.

To be considered for this feature, we need to have reviewed the smartphone in full. This means there might be a couple missing that you might have come across, but rest assured, we will be updating this feature as we get our hands on more so keep checking back if none of those listed in our gallery tickle your fancy just yet.

Whether you are after an impulse replacement or you just can’t bear the thought of spending the best part of £500 or more on a device that lets you ring people among a few other things, head to our gallery to find the best budget phones available to buy today for under £200.

Click here for the best budget smartphones under £200

11
Jul

Pokemon Go will let you trade characters in upcoming update


Pokemon developers, Niantic are already working hard on building new features in to its hit mobile game. Speaking to Tech Insider, the developers claim that Pokemon Go players will soon be able to trade characters. This is just one of many upcoming features designed to keep players onboard and playing longer. 

Niantic CEO John Hanke told TI that having the ability to trade Pokemon characters is “kind of a core element”, and something we’ve seen in classic Pokemon games in the past. Although he didn’t reveal the exact mechanics of how this would work, trading ties in well with the what the game is trying to do which is basically just encouraging players to interact with each other in the AR world. 

  • Can’t get Pokemon Go in your country yet? Here’s how to download it now
  • Pokemon Go coming to UK, Europe and other countries “within days”

As well as the key trading feature, upcoming updates will also include new ways to interact and play with Pokéstops and Gyms. These are the landmarks in the real world where players go to stock up on items, build up their experience and battle each other. Game players will soon be able to customise their functions, rather than use them in only their current “basic” state. 

More importantly, the core mechanics of the game will be updated with more advanced AR technology. Although specifics weren’t really given, Hanke said that the current implementation is a “great first step”, but that there is much more available to them which they can implement. In future we might even see the title updated to work on dedicated AR devices. These could be the likes of HoloLens, or the Magic Leap device Google has been working on for some time. 

With a dedicated AR device running Pokemon, players wouldn’t need to be staring at their phones, instead they would have the image beamed directly to their eyes using a headset of some kind. 

Of course this market is only in its infancy now, so this kind of feature is likely some way off. By then, hype surrounding the game could have completely died off. That’s assuming the AR market takes off in the first place. 

11
Jul

Pokemon Go: Best, worst and craziest places people have found Pokemon


There’s no doubt that gaming app Pokemon Go has captured a world’s imagination. And it still isn’t even out in the UK or mainland Europe yet.

Reports suggest that five per cent of Android phones in the US have downloaded the application already. That’s staggering. Indeed, some have written that its use outnumbers Tinder in the States. People would rather find a Bulbasaur than a girl or boyfriend.

So, with such popularity you can bet the Twitter-sphere has been awash with reports of funny, weird and even alarming places where people have found Pokemon hiding. The app enables you to catch and collect Pokemon all over the world, as you wander around in real life, so there are plenty of options for tomfoolery.

  • Can’t get Pokemon Go in your country yet? Here’s how to download it now
  • Pokemon Go coming to UK, Europe and other countries “within days”
  • Pokémon Go will let you trade characters in upcoming update

That’s why we’ve decided to collect some of the best that have emerged in the last week, since Pokemon Go was released in the US, Australia, New Zealand and Japan.

Have a flick through the gallery above and check out what awaits you, whether you are already in one of those countries or in a location, such as the UK, which doesn’t yet have the official app available in the Apple App Store or on Google Play.

The examples above should whet your appetite or utterly horrify you enough to stay well clear.

We do give you a couple of words of warning, you might consider some of these NSFW and we can’t ensure each and every one is genuine. Considering the nature of the on-screen overlays, it’s actually pretty simple to fake through Photoshop. However, we’ve decided to include some of those we suspect of being made-up because they are funny. Enjoy.

11
Jul

Latest iPhone 7 casing leak shows off gold colouring in high res photo


Yet another iPhone 7 leak has surfaced online, showing the device’s design more clearly than we’ve seen before. This most recent leak shows an actual real-life iPhone casing, in hand, and in good quality light and resolution. By the looks of things, everything we’ve read so far about Apple’s upcoming smartphone is accurate. 

In the leak, we see yet again that the Cupertino-based company is sticking with a very similar design to the iPhone 6/6s, although there are a couple of subtle changes. Of course, that’s presuming the leaks are genuine, which they seem to be.

Firstly, the camera cutout is much larger than the current camera ring, suggesting we’ll see much better optics on the next Apple mobile. What’s more, rather than have a separate part acting as the camera ring, the protrusion is built right in to the frame using the same piece of aluminium. The holes for the noise cancelling microphone, dual LED flash and Apple logo look mostly unchanged. 

  • Apple iPhone 7 in pictures: Renders and leaked photos gallery
  • Apple iPhone 7: Release date, rumours and everything you need to know

The second most obvious change is the antenna band design. Rather than having plastic filler running along the top and bottom edge, along with the two bands straight across the device’s back – effectively creating separate top and bottom metal panel – Apple is supposedly ditching the two parallel bands. With this method, only the bands running around the corners and along the very edges are retained.

This suggests quite clearly that Apple has developed a new way to build its external antennas for cellular, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connections. 

Given the size of the casing, it seems this is the regular iPhone 7 rather than a plus-sized model. The lack of the rumoured dual-camera cutout also seems to suggest the same. 

Apple is expected to launch the next iPhone at some point in the third quarter. Its usual timeframe is around September/October, with retail launch before the holiday shopping season kicks in. 

11
Jul

Qualcomm Snapdrgaon 821 arrives just in time for Galaxy Note 7


Qualcomm has announced the new Snapdragon 821 quad-core processor; the next in line from its current high-end chip, the Snapdragon 820. Although it doesn’t give precise details on all the improvements made with the Snapdragon 821 over the 820, the company does state that it offers 10% performance increase. 

Like the Snapdragon 820, the 821 uses a Kryo quad-core CPU, but can be clocked up to 2.4GHz speeds. That’s a 0.28GHz increase over the Snapdragon 820.

Qualcomm states that the Snapdragon 821 will “set a new bar for smartphones, tablets, mobile VR head mounted displays and other new devices”. We’re also told to expect the first wave of devices powered by the processor to arrive in the second half of 2016. Which basically means anytime from now. 

Qualcomm doesn’t see this as a replacement for the 820, rather, it’s been designed to “complement and extend the competitive strengths of the Snapdragon 800 lineup.”

While it falls short of saying exactly which devices will be shipping with the new chip, it’s very likely that we’ll see it in the next Galaxy Note, which is due to be announced next month. It’s also likely to be chosen as the processor for the next Nexus smartphones. 

Given that Google has set out a list of specifications required for phones to be Daydream VR compatible, it’s likely that Qualcomm released the updated chip to comply.

If Qualcomm wants to be the processor of choice for the next wave of high-end phones, it needed to make sure it has something on the market that’s capable of powering Google’s standard for mobile VR. It could also perhaps be because complaints of slow performance on the Galaxy S7 range in the US meant a more powerful processor was required by Samsung for the Galaxy Note 7. 

11
Jul

Pokemon Go: 11 amazing, mind-boggling facts about the AR game


Pokemon has taken the US, New Zealand and Australia by storm since it launched on Wednesday 6 July.

And, in a sort-of bluffer’s guide, here are 11 cool facts for you to roll off when someone asks you all about it. 

  • Can’t get Pokemon Go in your country yet? Here’s how to download it now
  • Pokemon Go coming to UK, Europe and other countries “within days”
  • Pokemon Go: Best, worst and craziest places people have found Pokemon

5.16 per cent 

According to online tracking service Similar Web, Pokemon Go was installed on 5.16 per cent of all Android devices in the US by Friday 8 July, only 3 days after the app’s release. That’s more than Tinder.

3 per cent 

Over 3 per cent of the entire US Android population have not just downloaded but used the app. According to Similar Web, over 60 per cent of those who have downloaded it are using it daily.

277 million

Nintendo has sold more than 277 million Pokemon games to date, over 21.5 billion trading cards in 10 languages, and made 17 feature films over the last 20 years. Time will tell how Pokemon Go matches up to those numbers.

$57.65 billion

Pokemon sales and licences alone have resulted in Nintendo earning a whopping $57.65 billion in revenue as of 2015.

4 million

Outside of the US, users around the world have been trying to download Pokemon Go using an APK, bypassing the official app store. The main source, apkmirror.com, saw its traffic go from roughly 600,000 visits on 5 July to over four million visits on 6 July alone. 

$9 billion

The stock market likes Pokemon Go too. Since Wednesday 6 July Nintendo stocks are up. Nintendo has seen more than $9bn (£6.9bn) added to the company’s market value as investors see the huge potential.

4 suspects, 11 victims

Four suspects in O’Fallon, Missouri allegedly used Pokemon Go to lure at least 11 users into a trap. The suspects set locations on the app where players could find wild Pokemon. They then allegedly mugged them when they arrived at the location, stealing phones and personal belongings. The teens are said to have admitted to using the app as part of their criminal actions.

1 dead body

Shayla Wiggins found more than she bargained for when she went hunting for Pokemon near Big Wind River in Fremont County. She spied a genuine dead body in the water. She called the police, who have since stated that “the death appears to be accidental in nature and possible that of a drowning.”

£79.99

That’s the price of 14,500 PokeCoins in Pokemon Go in the UK. It’s the most expensive in-app purchase you can get. Coins buy you accessories and things in the game, but sadly cost real money if you want to spend immediately. If you are patient you can save PokeCoins by playing the game.

362 per cent 

Spotify streams of the Pokemon Theme “Gotta Catch ‘Em All” have increased 362 per cent globally in the past week following the enormous success of Pokemon Go. Overall streams of Pokemon songs on Spotify have more than tripled.

There are currently 197 thousand user-generated “Pokemon” playlists and a further 53 thousand simply titled “Pikachu”.

The top 5 most-streamed tracks on Spotify are…

Pokemon Theme
Pokerap
Pokemon Johto
Go Pokemon Go
I Want To Be A Hero

15 July

That’s the day when you should have Pokemon Go by if you live outside the US, New Zealand and Australia. Its release here, in Europe and other countries around the world has been promised “soon” officially, but the Wall Street Journal’s sources say it will be available “within days”.

11
Jul

Grand Theft Auto 5 Redux mod shows how incredible and lifelike GTA 6 could be


With all the talk of Pokemon Go and Red Dead Redemption dominating gaming news it’s nice to find something unrelated. What’s more, no matter how popular and excellent the mobile and backwards compatible games are respectively, neither could touch GTA 5 Redux for making us go “wow”.

Grand Theft Auto 5 has been available on PC for more than a year, but a mod by Josh Romito and his team not only brings it kicking and screaming up to date, it almost presents an all-new experience.

The GTA 5 Redux mod not only dramatically overhauls the graphics, with all-new weather systems and effects, lighting and textures, the game has been enhanced in many ways.

  • Grand Theft Auto 5 review: Bona fide thrill ride on PS4 and Xbox One
  • 61 incredible Snapmatic pics that show how good GTA 5 on PS4 and Xbox One can look

There is a new police system, with a reconfigured wanted system. Officers and the military have also been given new tactics and skills, plus more advanced weapon load outs. There are also female police officers dispatched to your crimes.

Weapons have been upgraded, to be closer to real life counterparts. Bullets are also projectiles, rather than hit instantly as in the main game. Enemies are also tweaked to fight back more effectively, especially in melee.

Population levels have also been reconfigured, with a greater variety of random events happening. The frequency of non-story crimes and police clashes has been ramped up.

There are plenty of other changes too, which are detailed on the mod’s homepage at gta5redux.com. The most important statistic though is the date of release, which has been set to 26 August. You’ll be able to apply it to your own game (on PC) and see the incredible amount of work and effort put into it then.

We’ve included the mod’s gameplay trailer above, to give you an idea of how good it looks. We’ve also posted a PC gameplay trailer below of the original, for comparison.

Let’s hope Rockstar takes note and sees the potential for a more realistic looking GTA 6.

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